This article was formerly a part of Spotting Synonyms or Antonyms and Answering Questions About Words. For the sake of clarity, that has now been split into two more specific articles. To read the information which used to be included, see Answering Questions About Words
In another article, Spotting Synonyms, we take a look at words with similar meanings. In this one we turn our attention to antonyms. Just as synonyms are words with the same or similar meanings, antonyms are words with opposite meanings.
There are two ways that Opposite Meaning questions are posed in the exam. Firstly, candidates are shown two groups of words and asked to pick two antonyms, one word from each group.
Alternatively, antonyms might be combined with synonyms. Candidates are again shown two groups of words, but this time they are asked to pick either two antonyms (one word from each group) or two synonyms (one word from each group).
Let’s start with the second of these, as it includes synonyms , which complicates matters:
Example Question One
Find TWO words, one from each group, that have similar meanings OR opposite meanings.
Unless the answer immediately pops out, then the technique for solving these is to go through all the possible combinations, looking for synonyms or antonyms. This is best done in the head to save valuable time, but if it were written down, it would look something like this:
|Force||mend||neither synonyms nor antonyms.|
|Force||strong||related words (you would have to be strong to use force) but not synonyms.|
|Force||stop||connected words (you can force someone to stop) but not synonyms.|
|Break||mend||these are perfect antonyms.|
|Break||strong||like ‘force’ and ‘strong, these words are related, but not synonyms.|
|Break||stop||related words (if you break something it will stop working) but not synonyms.|
|Relax||mend||neither synonyms nor antonyms.|
|Relax||strong||neither synonyms nor antonyms.|
|Relax||stop||related words (you may relax by stopping doing anything) but not synonyms.|
As you can see, even with two short lists, there are lots of possible combinations. Writing them all down would take up valuable time so it’s vital that children learn how to visualise the word combinations.
In the example above, there are a few pitfalls for the unwary. ‘Break’ sounds very similar to ‘brake’ which is a synonym for ‘stop’. As ever, a good vocabulary and ability to spell are invaluable. Also, there are many related or connected words, such as ‘force’ and ‘strong’, ‘relax’ and ‘stop’ or ‘break’ and ‘stop’. Make sure that your child understands the exact definition of antonym and synonym to avoid these traps.
Now we come to the more common format for Opposite Meaning questions. In these, candidates can disregard synonyms as we are only interested in antonyms.
Example Question Two
Choose the pair of words which are MOST opposite to each other, taking one word from each group of three.
Now we are looking for words which mean the opposite of each other. Those with large vocabularies should be able to spot the answer right away. For the rest of us, we’ll have to try each word in the first group, looking for opposites:
Fare – this word can be misinterpreted. It has the same sound as ‘fair’, but a very different meaning. In fact, ‘fare’ has three possible meanings:
Most ten-year-olds should be familiar with the first definition. If not, they may confuse it with ‘fair’. None of these definitions has an antonym in the second group, so we can move on to ‘only’.
Only - every ten-year-old will know the meaning of this. Careless candidates may choose ‘just’ as their answer, because ‘just’ is a synonym of ‘only’. But remember: we are only looking for antonyms. Make sure that your child reads each question carefully so that they do not mistakenly pick the wrong answer.
Having ruled out ‘fare’ and ‘only’, we come to the last word, ‘fair’:
Fair – like ‘only’ every ten-year-ol should be familiar with this word. It has only three possible meanings:
The second and third definitions have no antonyms on the list, which leaves us with the first, ‘right, proper or reasonable’.
Again, careless candidates may mistakenly choose ‘just’ as it is a synonym of ‘fair’. It is good to be as fast as possible in the exam, but not so fast that you make mistakes like this. Always read the question thoroughly so that you understand what is required in the answer.
‘Unbiased;’ is the correct answer, as that is a perfect antonym for ‘fair’.
So that your child knows what to expect in the exam, we’ve created four quizzes which follow the Opposite Meaning format. They might help to expand your child’s vocabulary as well as familiarise them with antonyms.
You’ll find the quizzes in our Eleven Plus Verbal Reasoning section or, alternatively, you can follow these links:
Just as with synonyms, the best way to become better at spotting antonyms is to improve your vocabulary. The two most useful ways to do this are by reading as much as possible, and by consulting a dictionary whenever you come across a word you do not know, or are unsure of. Encourage your child to do both of these and their vocabulary will bloom a result.